If you follow any basketball pundit, publication or broadcast, then you know just how unexpected the Oklahoma City Thunder run is right now. Beating the Spurs in six, and now only one game away from beating the Warriors to go on to the NBA finals–no one saw it coming (maybe besides Charles Barkley).
Just take a look at ESPN’s playoff predictions, which highlights the predictions of some of the most well-known NBA experts, including Zach Lowe, Kevin Arnowitz, Marc Stein, etc. Against the Spurs, only three out of 18 experts predicted OKC to win, while against the Warriors, exactly zero out of 18picked the overlooked Thunder squad.
Putting aside the “beating the odds” conversation, what’s the big deal about all of this? We’ve seen underdogs in numerous sports climb the championship ladder. It’s one of the great things about professional sports.
This NBA season though, in particular, has had an overwhelmingly noticeable dialogue of hierarchy when it comes to teams and title contenders. There are the three kings at the top of the ladder, then roughly eight or nine teams in the middle class, hustling to stay relevant, then the rest of the league at the bottom of the ladder that no one ever talks about (unless they do something ridiculous, i.e.New York Knicks). The three teams, which I guarantee every basketball fan knows, are the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers.
All year long it’s been Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers. Warriors path to gaining the best regular season record in NBA history, the Spurs trying to go undefeated at home and the LeBron drama in Cleveland. That’s pretty much it. Talking heads from far-and-wide spent countless hours of their program discussing the same old things, and who can blame them, every other NBA team had a fairly cookie-cutter regular season. Maybe besides the Trailblazers.
Though, as the only medium between us (the fans) and the NBA, it became an overdone dialogue.
Myself, I listen to Zach Lowe’s the “Lowe Post” on a regular basis, and the tones of hopelessness for the teams outside of the top three became more and more depressing as the season progressed. The Clippers had hit their maximum potential, the Thunder won’t make it anywhere without more pieces, the Atlanta Hawks are going to blow-up come trade deadline. The rest of the league, time to rebuild!
What sort of professional sport has 27 teams continuously rebuilding and rejigging their roster season-to-season in hopes of moving up the rung into the “elite”? Waiting until they hit gold in free agency or in the draft, firing coach after coach almost as if for the sake of just something to do.
Then the playoffs rolled around, and still nothing changed. It was still Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers. No underdog talk, little respect for match-ups. Pretty much, there was a 0% chance that any other team outside of the top three would win an NBA title this year. Right until Game Five of the Thunder-Spurs match-up, where the Thunder have since thrown a year-longs worth of NBA analysis straight into the trash.
Oklahoma City Thunder can change the NBA
One more win, that’s all it’ll take. They beat the Warriors and everything changes. After that, If they go on to win the NBA championship, then the whole league changes. Oh man, do I want them to fricking win the NBA championship.
Using the comparison to class hierarchy again, just imagine a working, middle class person coming up to take down three kings that were hyped-up almost to the extent of being considered demigods. Just imagine what would happen. Not only would it give the rest of the middle class a big smack of hope to the face, it would also put into question the legitimacy of how we view the structure of things as a whole.
What OKC has reminded all of us, in particular NBA pundits, is that anything can happen in the playoffs. Teams with legitimately good rosters, a great coaching staff and a certain level of confidence can win at any time. LA Clippers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, even teams like the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves (come next year, you’ll see). If the pieces fall into place, players play to their full capacity, and the timing is just right, then a championship contending playoff run is a reality.
With just one more win, the pointless conversation of Durant needing to move to San Francisco or San Antonio in order to win a championship blows up in flames. Talks of the Clippers imploding their big four, Raptors shipping off DeRozan, the Bulls retrying through the draft, etc. etc. all lose a huge chunk of legitimacy.
Again, any team can win. This isn’t a three-team league and it never will be. Although there will always be favourites, as it should be, important figures in the NBA, from the experts who fuel us with all things basketball to a team’s back-office with their finger on the rebuilding trigger, all need to take a step back. Be patient. You too can win a championship. No one can predict what will happen come playoffs, and besides seeding, nothing else about the regular season determines your fate once game one hits.
Come on OKC, take home the gold and remind us how ridiculous we’ve all been this season.